Sunday, December 28, 2008

Market for used books

The easy availability of internet shopping for used books hasn't just affected used book stores, it is having an effect on the sale of new books as well, much like internet downloading of music affects sales of recorded music. Here's a story from the NY Times: Bargain Hunting for Books, and Feeling Sheepish About It . It makes the point that people can (and do) now sell relatively new books once they have read them, and that this impacts stores that sell new books, and of course authors, since neither get a share of resales. Increasing the thickness of the used book market increases the 'velocity' of a book, i.e. the rate at which new books change hands. Each copy of a book gets more readers, but each title sells fewer new copies.

"A book search engine like can knit together 20,000 booksellers around the world offering tens of millions of nearly new, used or rare books."

"Andy Ross, the former owner of Cody’s, told me that buying books online “was not morally dubious, but it is tragic. It has a lot of unintended consequences for communities.”
Mr. Ross said he realized that Cody’s was doomed when he noticed that in the last year he hadn’t sold a single copy of that old-reliable for undergraduates, Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason.” Students presumably were buying it online. Sales of classics and other backlist titles used to be the financial engine of publishers and bookstores as well, allowing them to take chances on new authors. Clearly that model is breaking. Simon & Schuster, which laid off staffers this month, cited backlist sales as a particularly troubled area. "


michael webster said...

Isn't the challenge for publishers to find some way of renting a book without using DRM technology?

Software games, fashion designers, and up to now, the car industry, have been masters of the revision game.

Should we also expect them to decline because of a vigorous secondary market?

Justin Wehr said...

As technologies like the Kindle take off, we will likely see illegal downloading of books as well, although I doubt it will get as bad as the illegal music downloading because companies such as Amazon have such a vested interest.

Thanks for another great post!

Scott said...

More on used book sellers--mostly human interest, but also some economics at the end.

Particularly notable given the previous comment:
"Amazon's Kindle, the Sony Reader and applications created for cellphones seem likely to push early adopters away from physical books at increasing rates. Publishers have been scrambling to prepare for the brave new world of e-books, and a 54,000-square-foot warehouse, needless to say, won't count as a major asset in that world."

On the common enemy of all book producers and purveyors:
"Talk to enough publishers and booksellers and you'll find that their No. 1 long-term worry is the increasing competition for their customers' time and attention."